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The Aeneid | Study Guide


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Book 10

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Book 10 of Virgil's epic poem The Aeneid.

The Aeneid | Book 10 | Summary



Jupiter asks the gods why Trojans and Latins are fighting when he commanded otherwise. Venus blames Juno, begging that Ascanius be saved to fulfill the destiny of Rome. Juno plays innocent—she didn't send Iris to inflame war. (She sent the Fury Allecto.) And didn't Venus cause the Trojan War, starting all of this in the first place? Jupiter pledges not to interfere—the Fates will decide.

As Turnus keeps the Trojans pinned in their fort, Aeneas sails back with the Etruscan fleet. Turnus sends troops to meet the ships, and soldiers clash on the beach. None can stand against Aeneas, especially with Venus's protection. Pallas keeps his inexperienced horsemen from retreating and kills many enemies—until he comes to Turnus's attention. Pallas throws a spear at Turnus, but Turnus's shield protects him. Then Turnus throws; his spear punches through Pallas's shield into his chest. Turnus takes Pallas's golden sword belt as a trophy, an act he will come to regret.

A herald brings Aeneas the news of Pallas's death, and he blazes through the enemy. Showing no mercy in his anger, he frees his Trojans from the fort. In the heavens Juno begs to preserve Turnus. Jupiter allows it—but it will not change his fate. Railing against Jupiter and Fate, Juno lures Turnus away from the battle.

Back on the field, Jupiter spurs the brutal King Mezentius to enter his last fight. Acknowledging no other god than his right arm, Mezentius fails to wound Aeneas. Aeneas successfully wounds Mezentius, but Lausus, Mezentius's son, protects his father and allows him to flee. Unfortunately, Lausus cannot stand against Aeneas, but Aeneas is moved by his devotion to his father and declines to plunder his corpse. Realizing he has abandoned his son to die, Mezentius returns to duel Aeneas. He dies asking only to be buried with his son.


The central conflict between the will of the gods and Fate in The Aeneid is highlighted in Book 10. It is essentially a conflict between Juno, who hates the Trojans, and Venus, who supports her son Aeneas. As king of the gods, Jupiter enforces Fate, but he also indulges his wife, allowing her to temporarily extend Turnus's life, and for her part Juno is always wary not to push her husband too far. The interactions between Jupiter and Juno also hint at their rocky relationship. In mythology Juno is frequently jealous and upset about her husband's equally frequent infidelities, betraying the institution of marriage. Jupiter, though calmer in temperament, has a tendency to seduce other goddesses and mortal women. Mythology is full of his offspring—Hercules and Helen of Troy, just to name a couple.

Jupiter's oath of noninterference is a bit confusing. In one place he almost seems to be saying he wouldn't prevent the destruction of the Trojans. However, his statement "the Fates will find a way" indicates that Aeneas's fate is still on track. The Fates will ensure it, if not him. Jupiter does intervene in small ways in Books 11 and 12, apparently without breaking his oath, so perhaps it only applies to the battle in Book 10, or only to larger interventions. Jupiter also allows the goddesses to interfere, which may serve Virgil's intent in two ways. One, he may be inviting the reader to question the judgments of the gods and therefore the power of the gods themselves. Or two, Virgil may imply that by permitting interference of the goddesses, the heroic nature of Aeneas is put to the test. There would be little risk in the outcome, though, because both gods and mortals fall under the ultimate conditions of Fate.

Pallas's death demonstrates the limits of piety when it comes up against the inevitability of Fate. Although he prays successfully to the god Tiber in an earlier battle, his prayers to Hercules cannot help him when he faces Turnus. In the heavens Hercules weeps, but he can't fight Fate any more than Juno can. As Jupiter says, "Each man has his day, and the time of life/is brief for all and never comes again." Turnus will face his fate as well.

Battle fury and anger over Pallas's death overtake Aeneas's better judgment. He loses his reason and the sense of mercy that his father's spirit urges in Book 6. The Rutulian Magus begs Aeneas to spare his life for the sake of his father and son. Aeneas refuses for his family's honor: "So the ghost of my father, so my son declares." He also denies a proper burial to the begging champion Tarquitus, preventing his soul from entering the Underworld. In a practice that echoes Patroclus's funeral in The Iliad, Aeneas takes enemies alive to burn on Pallas's pyre. Only Lausus's display of love and honor for his father reaches Aeneas, prompting him to show mercy by allowing his body to be removed without plundering or desecrating it.

Aeneas's shield, the symbol of his fate, preserves his destiny (and through him, the destiny of Rome) by physically protecting his life. Time and again it deflects blows without significant damage when many other shields, including Pallas's, allow blows to punch through and kill their bearers.

Mezentius's story warns against failing to honor and respect the gods. In addition to being a tyrant who murdered his own people, he scorns the gods. Jupiter takes an active role in punishing this, goading Mezentius into the fight that eventually leads to his death. In two epic similes, Mezentius holds off attackers like a wild boar (notoriously dangerous and ill-tempered) and pounces on an enemy like a maddened lion. Even he is not all bad, for he honorably refuses to kill a man while he is running away. Instead he chases him down and kills him face-to-face. As he faces Aeneas he indulges in hubris, or pride, calling his own right arm "my only god." When he dedicates his spear throw to Lausus, he also involves his son in his offense, leading to both their deaths.

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